Microsoft Excel remains the most popular spreadsheet application in the world. Excel spreadsheet data is often confidential and contains personal or financial data. Understandably, you might want to consider additional protection for your Excel files, such as a password.
You can password protect any Excel file using several options, including the built-in Excel password tool or third-party Excel password options.
1. Password protect Excel sheet with integrated tool
The first option for Excel password protection is an integrated tool. The entire Microsoft Office suite has a password protection tool that you can use to protect your Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and more.
In Excel, go to File> Info. From the drop-down menu select “Protect Book” and then “Encrypt with Password”.
Now enter a strong password for your Excel spreadsheet. Make sure your password is strong and unique, click OK, then re-enter the password to confirm.
The next time you try to open an Excel spreadsheet, you will see a password entry form.
New to Excel? Check out our guide to the basics of Microsoft Excel for a quick start!
How strong is Microsoft Office password protection?
Microsoft Office 97-2003 used a very poor encryption standard known as RC4. The old encryption algorithm has many vulnerabilities, making it incredibly easy to crack a password in an old Excel document.
In Microsoft Office 2007-2013, the encryption algorithm was updated with the transition to the much stronger AES-128 algorithm. Office 2016-2019 uses the AES-256 encryption algorithm, which cannot be cracked in a reasonable amount of time using existing technology.
Excel Extra Protection
Microsoft Excel also has several additional security features:
- Mark as Final: Marks the file as complete, which informs other users of the spreadsheet not to make any changes. However, marking a spreadsheet as final does not provide additional password protection.
- Protecting the current sheet: You can add a little extra layer of protection to a specific spreadsheet in your workbook when you password protect an Excel sheet. People who have access to the Excel file can still see the spreadsheet, but they cannot make any changes without the correct password. You can also use a different password for this option.
- Restrict Access: An option that large organizations can use to restrict access to specific individuals using security templates or other identifiers.
- Add digital signature. The digital signature option verifies that the file remains unchanged between the sender and the recipient, ensuring the same content.
You can use a combination of advanced security features along with the Excel spreadsheet password protection option, especially if you are using an Excel spreadsheet.
A great method to encrypt multiple Excel files at the same time is to use the free 7-Zip archiving tool to password protect multiple Excel files. You can use 7-Zip to encrypt an entire folder of individual Excel files, password-protecting the entire set of Excel spreadsheets, rather than one at a time.
First download and install the latest 7-Zip Once installed, navigate to the folder containing your Excel spreadsheets. Now hover your mouse over the files you want to password protect to select them all. Alternatively, hold CTRL and left-click to select individual files with the mouse.
You must now enter the password before opening any Excel spreadsheets inside the archive. But tables outside the archive are not password protected. Select Excel spreadsheets that are not password protected (outside the archive) and delete them.
3. Windows Encrypting File System
Windows Encryption File System (EFS) is Windows integrated encryption for individual files. EFS is different from Bitlocker, which you use for full disk encryption. Instead, EFS operates on a file-by-file basis, which is ideal for password-protecting an Excel spreadsheet.
To use EFS to encrypt a file, right-click the Excel spreadsheet and select Properties. Now select “Advanced”, then select the “Encrypt content to protect data” checkbox. Click OK, then Apply.
An encryption warning appears. It explains that encrypting a single file can be problematic under certain circumstances, and that encrypting an entire folder provides more protection. If the file is in a frequently used folder, you will have to unlock the folder every time you want to access any other file. One way to get around this is to put the text file in a separate folder and use it as a protected folder.
After confirming your choice, the encrypted file system will ask you if you want to back up the encryption key. You can use a backup copy of the encryption key if you forgot your decryption password.
Export encryption key backup
If you choose to export a backup copy of the encryption key for added security, the Microsoft Certificate Export Wizard starts. The wizard will guide you through creating and exporting the encryption key to an external medium, such as a USB drive.
Select “Personal Information Exchange” on the first page and select the “Export all advanced properties” checkbox. On the next page, you must enter a strong and unique password to password protect your files. Change the encryption type to AES256-SHA256 (extremely strong encryption!
When the process is complete, you will see a small lock icon on the Notepad text file icon indicating its encryption status.
Another handy tool to password protect Excel spreadsheets is AxCrypt, a handy yet powerful encryption tool.
Download and install AxCrypt When you start AxCrypt for the first time, you will have to complete the configuration. It is important to note that you must provide a real email address during the registration process, otherwise you will not receive a free AxCrypt license. Once you get the code, copy and paste it into AxCrypt before proceeding.
You also need to create a strong and unique AxCrypt password. The AxCrypt password acts as the encryption and decryption key for your Excel spreadsheets. Pay attention to the AxCrypt warning. Password recovery will only allow access to the account associated with the files. This will prevent you from decrypting files protected by the old password.
When you’re ready, drag the Excel spreadsheet file into the AxCrypt window. If you are logged into AxCrypt, it will automatically encrypt your files. Likewise, if you are logged into AxCrypt and try to open a file, the password prompt will not appear. If you close AxCrypt (which also logs out), you will be prompted for a password when you try to open the spreadsheet.
AxCrypt is a free encryption tool, which is why it’s included in our list of the best free Windows software.
What is the best way to password protect an Excel spreadsheet?
It used to be risky to use Microsoft Office’s built-in password protection to password protect an Excel file or worksheet. The encryption algorithm was not strong enough and had many vulnerabilities that made it unusable. Since Microsoft Office now uses AES-256, you can rest assured that the password protection on your Excel spreadsheet is secure and unbreakable with modern technology.
Since the built-in password protection only processes one file at a time, you might also want to consider 7-Zip encryption. If you are dealing with a large volume of Excel spreadsheets that you want to protect, password-protecting all of them in one archive (with a strong and unique password!) Is a handy option that also uses AES-256.
Want to know about a strong and unique password? Check out these easy ways to create a password you’ll always remember.